Eric Gordon’s face never changes. For over two hours, the Hornets guard dropped shots from all over the court and single-handedly delivered a horrendous 95-86 blow to the Utah Jazz – and his mug never changed. That picture headlining this blog shows off his one and only expression. Even when he hit a long bomb 3-pointer with a minute remaining in the game, Gordon’s expression never changed. Not even when his bewildered teammates ran out to greet him acting as though they’d just won the NBA Finals for the third time in a row – Gordon’s face never changed.
And you know why? Because this game didn’t mean squat for New Orleans. But, for whatever reason, coach Monty Williams’ team came out swinging as hard as they could – diving after loose balls, ripping down ferocious rebounds, nailing implausible turnaround J’s and yelling at the refs as though the title depended on it.
What. The. Hell.
Seriously, New Orleans. Did you guys just get through watching a Rudy marathon? I don’t mind a team playing hard, but the way Gordon and co. played was downright bizarre at times. I kept shooting my dad (my fellow sports enthusiast for the night) perplexed expressions. “What are they playing so hard for,” I asked at one point. “Maybe Coach Williams promised them McDonald’s after the game,” he responded.
Why else would Gordon throw down 25 points and dish out six assists? Why would Kaman try so hard to notch 19 points? And who the freak is Jason Smith? And why the hell did he want to kill Favors/Jefferson/Milsap? The dude went AWOL and nearly handed us the game with his emotional spasms before hitting a couple of big shots down the stretch (while doing his best LeBron impersonation). I don’t get it.
It wasn’t all New Orleans, though. Utah ran on fumes. I’ve said this before, but the Jazz looked depleted at times; tired, ragged, worn down. I saw Gordy shoot Harris an exasperated look after a botched breakaway attempt in the third quarter; and later Raja Bell looked like he told Gordy to “shake it off” after Eric Gordon hit a ridiculous, game changing 3-pointer over Hayward’s outstretched arm (oddly enough, I just watched NBA TV’s profile piece on Hayward this afternoon – “I don’t like to lose,” the second year player said). Jefferson looked frustrated and Milsap would probably have decked the refs if Coach Corbin gave the OK.
This is why guys like CJ, Howard, Bell, Evans, and Watson are important. I made the mistake of thinking losing the first three allowed Utah to utilize its youth a little more – when you don’t mind tanking that strategy is sound, but when you’re gunning for the playoffs you’re not gonna get far with a 10 man roster. Especially if said roster lacks any type of physicality. I love Gordy and Sap for their finesse, but they don’t push people around. Neither does Jefferson, or Tinsley. Favors wants to, but ends up riding the pine whenever that chip on his shoulder truly kicks in. If there’s one thing the Jazz could do to improve over the off season it’s learn how to fight back.
Tonight the Hornets pushed and shoved their way to a victory – it wasn’t dirty, mind you. Just rough and tough basketball. Utah, as they’ve done all season, took the blows but didn’t match their opponents’ energy. Utah carries plenty of heart, that much is certain, but they don’t fight back when the going gets rough. (Say what you will about Bell’s play this year, but he carried a bitter chip into each game and never backed down from a confrontation.) That’s why Boston beat them a few weeks ago; and why Sac-Town always manages to put on a good show.
Hopefully Coach Corbin takes notes during the games.
Another thing that irks me, and this is something Sloan used to do: with three minutes remaining in the contest, and the Jazz trailing by 10, Harris casually walked the ball up the court and tried to run a play without any sign of urgency. Two minutes remaining, Jazz down 12. Still no urgency. 25 seconds left, Jazz down 10 – suddenly everyone’s running around like mad fools … Huh? I’m not expert, but that doesn’t seem right.
Neither does Utah’s horrific 3-point shooting. I know most of our outside shooters are injured, or dying, but even when they played Utah ranked last, or next to last in shots beyond the arc. When will the Jazz brass realize that, while points in the paint are an acceptable means of offense, a 3-pointer can push a team to the next level? In truth, one of the reasons I was happy to see Sloan go was so that a new coach could come in and remold the Jazz offense into something resembling a modern day approach – i.e., 3-point shots. A team should never live and die on the three, but sticking solely to an inside-inside game doesn’t work/has never worked. Tonight, New Orleans clogged the lane and forced the Jazz to shoot jumpers. A few 3-balls might’ve gone a long way …
But, alas, I can’t be too hard on Coach Corbin’s squad. They played hard tonight … sluggish, sure. But that’s what happens when half your squad lies in ruin on the sidelines.
So are the Jazz out? Nah. That’d be too easy. I doubt they’ll win tomorrow (although they seem to win the games I expect them to lose), and remember two of their final games are against a depleted Portland team, and Orlando sans (according to Locke) Dwight Howard. Plus Utah will get another go at the Suns – a big game for sure – in Utah. So no, this painful season has not subsided. Utah only stands a game and a half out of playoff contention.
It could happen. Just ask Eric Gordon (who responds with his patented droll expression).